Looking to ancient traditions for a sense of peace

To the Editor:

There comes a time when rational discourse seems unable to lead the mind or thinker beyond the piles of drift wood deposited by storms past and present. At such moments we dare not abandon the task of critical thought but we do well to explore the trans-rational possibilities of symbols, myths, and poems.

While you may choose freely to roam through the trans-rational, it is best to be yanked into vision, jolted out of ordinary consciousness. A traditional, season-cycled liturgy which seeks to impose (or expose) layers of transcendence in the unvarying furrows of time can help.

The Jewish calendar declares autumn to be the Beginning of the year. And it choreographs Beginning as a movement from judgment to joy, from fear to love, from isolation to community. The quintessential holiday of community, known as Sukkot, or Booths, takes place this year from Oct. 10-17. And it offers this great community of ours, students and teachers, workers and players, religious and secular a symbol to explore: The Booth, or Hut, or Shanty, or Shed, or Lean-to.

As tradition has it, one is to build and dwell inside a temporary shack as if it were home for an entire week. And this outdoor embrace of transience and contingency is associated with joy, fulfillment, peace, security. Ê

So I envision this year what we might call a Yale Booth Building Bee competition (I like the alliteration and the question implicit in the acronym, YBBB: Why be?) for the booth built that most compellingly represents the sense of home in a world not at home, the feeling of safety and comfort within a context of vulnerability and danger, the sense of hope for a world where strangers will yet dwell together without fear, under their fig trees and vines.

A panel of judges might include Yale architects, College Masters, along with say Dwight Hall students active in organizations like Habitat for Humanity, Yale Hunger Action Project, artists and others. Prize/s yet to be determined. Rules yet to be articulated. Slifka Center might provide a basic building kit to each college and competing group. Competing groups might include Residential Colleges and cultural houses, grad schools, and organizations.

Communal effort toward the construction and presentation of a symbolic, enclosed space, a home away from home, a place of peace where adversaries might sit together quietly, might be turned to a yet-to-be-identified spiritual advantage at Yale. ÊThe idea is ancient, curious, awaiting new exploration.

James Ponet

September 11, 2003

The writer is the Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain at the Joseph Slifka Center.

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